NHL's Opening Weekend Sees Record TV Ratings, Sellout Crowds
The NHL's "once-angry fans are embracing the NHL as if all is forgiven," as the first 16 games of the '13 season were sellouts, and the "crowd size was up in eight markets," according to Kevin Allen of USA TODAY. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday said, "We appreciate and are gratified by the response we have received from our fans. The attendance numbers and TV ratings once again demonstrate the passion of NHL fans." NBC yesterday announced that its coverage of Saturday's opening day received a 2.0 overnight rating, the "highest overnight rating for regular-season coverage, excluding the Winter Classic, the NHL has seen in 11 years." But while general reaction "has been positive, there has been minor fan backlash" (USA TODAY, 1/21). In Detroit, Drew Sharp wrote of Saturday's Red Wings-Blues game, "There were no hard feelings from the lockout in St. Louis." The standing-room sellout crowd of more than 20,000 at Scottrade Center was "loud and boisterous about 20 minutes before the puck dropped." The fans' reaction was "probably indicative of the majority of NHL cities." Hardcore hockey fans will "quickly forgive -- more so than other professional sports -- because their pure devotion for this sport runs a little deeper than it does elsewhere" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/20).
SELLOUTS AROUND THE LEAGUE: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi noted Saturday's crowd of 19,994 at Wells Fargo Center for Penguins-Flyers was "the largest in Flyers history for a regular-season game." Carchidi: "Starting the NHL in late January is perfect." There is "more drama" with games every other night, and season-ticket holders "have more disposable cash because of the money they saved from the canceled games" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 1/20). In Ft. Lauderdale, Craig Davis noted the Panthers' original season-ticket holders before Saturday's game against the Hurricanes "were introduced on the ice along with players Saturday." The sellout crowd of 19,688 was "the most ever for a Panthers opener and the 11th-highest overall" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 1/20). In Ft. Worth, Drew Davison noted while the Stars announced a sellout crowd of 18,532 for their game against the Coyotes, there were "a few empty seats as the video board jokingly suggested that Manti Te'o's girlfriend occupied one of them." Still, the crowd "was loud and passionate for the first game since" the lockout ended. The effects of the lockout "appeared minimal to the casual hockey fan" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 1/20). In Calgary, Vicki Hall writes at the Scotiabank Saddledome for yesterday's Sharks-Flames game, the "customary sellout crowd of 19,289 pretty much roared through the entire first period as the Flames worked the faithful into a frenzy" (CALGARY HERALD, 1/21).
FAITHFUL FANS ARE REWARDED: In Toronto, Joe Warmington wrote, "If there were fans here looking for NHL payback, they were scarce. Opening night was rocking" (TORONTO SUN, 1/20). In Montreal, Christopher Curtis noted Canadiens management "pulled out all the stops Saturday night: enlisting pop rockers Simple Plan to play a pregame concert outside the Bell Centre, giving every ticket-holder a free beer and creating a general party atmosphere around the arena" (Montreal GAZETTE, 1/20). In Tampa, Tom Jones wrote, "Any thoughts that the fans would hold a grudge ... were erased when every seat in the Tampa Bay Times Forum was sold." The arena "cranked up during pregame ceremonies, which included a thank-you" from Lightning C Vincent Lecavalier, and the "buzz stayed in the building through the game" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/20). In Buffalo, Robert McCarthy in a front-page piece notes fans arriving to First Niagara Center a few hours before game time "experienced a special welcome from the entire Sabres team, who suddenly appeared at the main gates to greet returning fans." The players "shook hands, signed autographs and posed for photos" (BUFFALO NEWS, 1/21). Meanwhile, the Sabres grossed $2M from sales in the team’s official store at First Niagara Center this week. The team sold all merchandise in the store for 50% during that time period (“Flyers-Sabres,” NBC, 1/20).
CROWNING THE KINGS: The AP's Greg Beacham noted the Kings on Saturday "recognized last June's Stanley Cup triumph in a joyous ceremony before their season opener." With the "help from the family of a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Conn., the Kings hung their black-and-white banner in the rafters at Staples Center and received their Tiffany rings." Nancy Anschutz -- the wife of Kings Owner Phil Anschutz -- "handed the ring boxes to the players as they skated to center ice." Bettman was "in the building, but didn't go on the ice" (AP, 1/19). SI.com's Allan Muir wrote the Kings' ceremony was "light on Hollywood and heavy on heart" (SI.com, 1/19).
OWNERS OPEN UP: Sabres Owner Terry Pegula on Saturday said, "We apologize to the whole hockey fan base, the media, our sponsors and our supporters for the hardship we may have put people through. Sometimes things happen that you don't plan for. I can tell you this, we truly are excited about being back. ... Deep down inside, you have to help some of these teams that are really struggling. That's how you keep a league, or we'll be back to the Original Six before you know it. It was worth it for the health of keeping a 30-team league" (AP, 1/19). Hurricanes Owner Peter Karmanos said of the new CBA, "We get more revenue. It's that simple. I'm not sure what the percentage is but it's significant. Our market is good enough that we'll spend the money to the (salary) cap if we think it can make a big difference for us. We're not just going to waste it and throw it away. The simple fact is out of $100 million in revenue we get $7 million more of it." Asked if he ever believed the entire season might be canceled, Karmanos said, "I was prepared not to play. [NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr] was doing his job. He's done it everywhere he's been. ... The players that hired him knew exactly what they were getting into. I strongly believe we could have gone to Fehr before the start of the season and said, 'We'd like the same exact deal we've had the last umpteen years' and he would not have answered" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 1/20).
SHIFT CHANGE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks wrote the NHL has "work to do in restoring a brand tarnished by owners' greed, and most certainly so in markets that were hurting before the lockout, but a compelling on-ice product will go a longer way to reestablishing trust in the league than gimmicks or full-page ads of apology" (N.Y. POST, 1/19). Wild RW Cal Clutterbuck said, "I'm just glad we stuck together. ... It was really important that players that were making a lot of money were standing behind the guys that may be [in] a bind in a year or two" (STARTRIBUNE.com, 1/19).
TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT: AHL President Dave Andrews said that the NHL's return "might actually be a boon to business for its member clubs." He added that hockey's "overall return to the public's good graces will help the AHL's bottom line." Andrews: "Having 100-some players down from the NHL for a while really helped the league from a media exposure point of view, but with the NHL back, I think it will drive interest in the game again that had started to fall off a little bit. ... We had a real strong start to the year, then you saw people started to get a little disappointed with the NHL not coming back. It impacted people's attitudes about the game, and that's changed now with the NHL starting back up" (PENNLIVE.com, 1/20).